Format: Box set, Color, DVD, Widescreen, NTSC
Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
Number of discs: 3
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: Acorn Media
DVD Release Date: March 1, 2011
Run Time: 391 minutes
Murder Investigation Team is a British TV series (aired on A&E in the USA) of dark and somber mien that has recently made its way to the USA as a DVD collection from Acorn Media. “Crafted to reflect real-life investigations” Murder Investigation Team follows an intrepid band of London coppers as they seek out the guilty in the morass of the innocent.
The lead detective is DI Vivien Friend (Samantha Spiro), whose brusque demeanor belies her name. Ruling her crew with an iron fist, Friend is not above a little chicanery and ball-busting to get her team to solve the crimes quickly and accurately. She takes under her wing the feminine mother DC Rosie McManus (Lindsey Coulson) in order to instruct her in the ways of detective work. Together they lead a male-dominated squad of players, fools, scribblers, and sycophants. Little is shown of anyone’s private life, and it is the case that dominates the story, from first discovery to apprehension of the culprit.
That is not to say that personalities don’t get in the way. For instance, DI Friend has a chip on her shoulder for one of her men and his sometimes illogical decision-making. For this professional Vulcan, this is traitorous. Yet Friend also holds a soft spot for the often gut making decision maker DC McManus, using her intuition to ferret and empathize with criminals and witnesses.
Spiro and Coulson play well off each other. In looks, Spiro has a hard-bitten edge to her, thin, Spartan, and always professional in her dress. Coulson looks like a sweater-wearing soccer mother – a warm, sensitive type. Each brings that sort of first impression to the roles, and so they balance one another’s flaws and strengths quite well. As for the other characters, they exist mostly as foils to the relationship between Friend and McManus, and to drop crucial pieces of information in their lap when needed.
The stories are sufficiently gut-wrenching. There is usually no introduction to the story as in other crime shows. We, as viewers, encounter the horror of the murder at the same time that the team does. Gang violence, self-interest, infanticide, and home-grown jealousy are just a few of the horrors that await the viewer. There is nothing pleasant about these narratives, though thankfully the director spares the viewer some of the more gruesome sights. But any fan of CSI will have enough grisly imagery to satisfy their appetites. Take any Law and Order episode, multiply by a factor of 10, and you might get close to how dark these episodes are. It really is a fictionalized, slightly sensationalized, version of A&E’s the The First 48.
Layered in are the darkly lit, or barren settings, giving the impression of a concrete jungle. A locale laced with animonsity and evil doings, but of a hideous rather than celebrated kind. These are the grim tales of man’s baser appetites.
There is no humor in these stories, except dark comedy meant to alleviate the stresses of the job. Gallows humor certainly issues forth from the more callous men of the team, though all of them still visibly carry the burden of pain that must come with such a job.
Viewers may dislike the often abrupt endings the episodes. Once the murderer is identified and interviewed (usually resulting in a confession from the superbly matched skills of Friend and McManus) there is little if any denouement. The story just ends, right where any coppers’ job normally would, at least until trial. They found their man, and it is on to the next case.
The cinematography uses a shaky cam in order to add “realism”. Think of the Bourne movies or some of the fake “reality” shows like The Office. The first episode is particularly bad, making my own stomach churn for lack of an opportunity to let my eyes settle. This does mellow out as the show progresses through later episodes, but in many ways Murder Investigation Team attempts a sort of documentarian style of filmmaking to add that extra dose of gritty reality. This, coupled with the speed of presentation (these episodes pack a lot of twists and turns into an hour), make it rough on the eyes and mind.
Americans may have some trouble with the dialogue in the story, no matter how Anglophone they are. The characters speak fast and use many British colloquialisms and designations that will be unfamiliar. Too, many of the actors speak low or under their breath, and added to the British accent, it makes it sometimes hard to catch information being presented. The dialogue has perfected the “speaking over” each other method, and while this again makes it seem more “real”, it is hard on ears used to one particular sort of grammar.
Murder Investigation Team Series 1 is a series of 8 episodes best suited to those who like their crime stories really dark and as close to “reality” as possible. I was left unsatisfied by the tales, taken aback by the depravity portrayed, the lack of empathetic characters, and the whole hearted focus on the solution. The series needs a little softening, a little more lightheartedness to alleviate some of its more painful moments. I can see Shield viewers liking it, though only if they can do without the action element. But if hardcore crime with an extremely fast pace and focus on a melancholy storyare your thing, then Murder Investigation Team might be just what you are looking for.
The DVD set of Series 1, just released in the US includes commentary on episode 1 with series creator Paul Marquess and consultant Jackie Malton and a 25 minute interview with actor Michael McKell.